Quesnel’s giant gold pan will have a new home at the Quesnel train station.
At their meeting Tuesday, Oct. 22, city council members voted to move the gold pan from its current location on Highway 97 North, at the turnoff to Barkerville at Highway 26, to the BC Rail parking lot across from the Quesnel Visitor Centre and the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives. The decision brought with it debate about the heritage significance of the gold pan and questions about safety.
Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, chair of the City’s Executive Committee, provided an update to council about the proposed move of the gold pan.
She says BC Rail has approved the City’s request to allow the installation of the gold pan in the parking lot adjacent to the Station House, and City staff has estimated it would cost approximately $7,000 to move the gold pan. The committee notes the gold pan should be refurbished prior to being installed at the new site, “bearing in mind City branding requirements.”
Coun. Ron Paull is a member of the Executive Committee, and he said he originally was in favour of relocating the gold pan to the rail station, but he has changed his mind.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of pictures of the gold pan on the Internet, and what I see now is that we have a problem with that proposed site in terms of background, very ugly, graffiti-laden rail cars,” he said. “Another concern I have is with regard to safety because visitors who are at the Visitor Centre or the museum or at LeBourdais Park, even up in the civic hosting area, will see that gold pan, and they’re going to have to hike across the highway in order to get a picture.
“I believe an accessible, unused corner of LeBourdais Park with a few flowers in the front and some nice trees in the back would be a better location than across the street at the railyard. I think the world’s largest gold pan has the potential to draw more visitors into our Visitor Centre, more visitors into our museum and more visitors even into our downtown area.”
City manager Byron Johnson says LeBourdais Park was one of the first locations they considered.
“The most significant objection came from our museum manager, who was quite opposed to the concept of moving a non-heritage asset into that site,” he said. “She doesn’t consider the gold pan to be a heritage asset and felt that site is already busy enough and the museum is busy, and there’s lots of stuff going on. In addition, there’s one community group, the Billy Barker Days Society … they feel it is problematic for Billy Barker Days events themselves, the more that greenspace gets encroached on, and they’ve consistently opposed it.
For those reasons, when we first considered it, we went away from that and didn’t consider it in the running any more for sites because we did receive that objection to it.”
Coun. Martin Runge echoed Paull’s safety concerns about walking across the highway.
“Unless we make some changes, we will have people from the Visitor Centre walking across the highway, and that does become a dangerous highway,” he said. “I would have loved to have seen it in the park. I think it is part of our heritage, even though some of us may not think so, but it’s been here for a number of years, and a lot of people grew up with it.”
Coun. Mitch Vik suggested LeBourdais Park might be a better location in that it centralizes some of the assets in terms of what people are doing on that side of the highway.
“It seems putting an asset on the other side of the highway separates it, and I’m a proponent of critical mass — I think if you have enough assets in one spot, you can attract more visitors,” he said. “It sounds like the decision has been researched well, but there could be other things to consider there.”
Coun. Scott Elliott was in favour of the rail station site, and he noted that Rocky Mountaineer’s numbers are growing every year.
“I always like to take in mind staff’s recommendations, and if it’s the museum manager’s recommendation that LeBourdais Park is the wrong place, then I would take that into consideration for sure,” he added. “I think people could just pull in there and enjoy it and take pictures if that’s what they want to do, and also as far as visibility, when we did the road survey, most of the traffic is in town, it’s not going out, so the amount of people who would see that every day now, instead of it being hidden in the park, would be huge.”
For Paull, the gold pan itself may not be a heritage asset because it is only 32 years old, but he feels symbolically, it is very significant.
“Certainly, the symbolic significance of that gold pan is very, very big in terms of the fact our history is based on the gold rush and the gold discovery,” he said.
Mayor Bob Simpson felt “iconic” was a better word to describe the gold pan.
“I don’t want this to devolve into a debate about what’s heritage and what’s not, but a piece of kitsch like a big gold pan is not heritage by any stretch of the imagination, symbolic or otherwise,” he said. “That was an issue that was raised by our curator, that by no definition is the gold pan considered heritage, period.
One of her other concerns was that it is currently positioned correctly relative to the gateway to Barkerville because Quesnel’s history is actually independent of the Barkerville gold rush, but we celebrate Billy Barker Days, we have a Billy Barker statue, etc. That’s all Barkerville and Wells oriented, and part of what we have to be careful of, and we’ve done a little bit of that with our branding, is finding our own symbolism and our own heritage.”
Paull wanted to refer the matter to staff to bring back a full suite of options, but with only himself and Vik supporting the motion, it was defeated.
In the end, council approved the relocation of the gold pan from its current site on Highway 97 North to the BC Rail lands adjacent to the station house and that the funding for the relocation and refurbishing of the gold pan be included in the City’s 2020 budget. Paull and Vik were opposed.
At the meeting, Paull told council that since the gold pan is being moved, this would be a good time to attempt to get into the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest gold pan.
“The gold pan is an iconic attraction,” he said. It can become even more iconic if it is in the Guinness Book of World Records, and believe me, I’ve been working on that.”
When the gold pan was first erected in 1987, Paull was on staff at the time, and it was his project and his idea, he explained, and he contacted the Guinness Book of World Records about the gold pan but was told it wasn’t considered a gold pan because it had not actually been used to pan gold. With the move, Paull believes there is an opportunity to get a bunch of people to pan gold out of the pan, in conjunction with either next year’s Minerals North conference or next year’s Gold Show.
“Nobody else has a world’s largest gold pan in the Guinness book, so it’s ours for the taking if we do it right,” he said.